Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Vintage “Barefoot In The Park” On Life Support

Mismatched couple Corie and Paul Bratter (Kerry Bishé and Chris Lowell) couldn’t be more polar opposite if they tried. Recently back from their five day honeymoon at the Plaza they don’t seem to have a clue about each other’s likes and dislikes. 

'Love is blind. Marraige is an eye opener'. 
Chris Lowell and Kerry Bishe
Paul is a budding attorney, at 26 he dresses like he’s 56, and always wears a frown. He’s the more cautious of the two with an entirely different outlook on life than Corie. He buries himself in his law stuff and she busies herself just being happy and fixing up her empty apartment. One sees the glass half full, the other half empty.

Overly optimistic and bouncy Corie rents a five-story walkup flat, in an old brownstone, on the Upper East Side of New York. I’m guessing it’s near the Park because she likes to ‘walk barefoot in the park’ even when there’s snow on the ground. It’s an activity Paul finds rather distasteful and almost unthinkable.
Kerry Bishe and Chris Lowell
This tiny top floor flat barely puts out heat from a radiator that you have to stand on a ladder to adjust. It has no bathtub (no room for that stuff), the skylight has a hole in it and it’s Feb. It often gets below zero and it snows in N.Y. in Feb. Ya think?

The bedroom is big enough for an oversized single bed, so that when the couple turns, they do it in unison and… Paul neatly lays his ties out between the pages of a dictionary. The pipes in the closet /aka the bedroom leak making it difficult to hang their clothes. (Badda boom)
Kerry Bishe, Chris Lowell, Mia Dillon and Jere Burnes
The neighbors, it appears are this side of weird. Victor Velasco (Jere Burns), who lives in the attic apartment above them (he has to go through the Bratter’s to get to his), is a Hungarian gourmet and rascal all rolled into one. Corie finds him charming. She also thinks he would make a fine companion for her ‘home alone’ mother, Ethel (Mia Dillon) who has her own idiosyncrasies, lives in the burbs of New Jersey and would like nothing more than to be a grandmother.

“Barefoot in the Park” opened in 1963 and was one of his longest running hits, 1530 performances, making it, then, the tenth longest-running and non musical play in Broadway history. It closed in 1967. The movie starred Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.

Some vintage wines get better with age. Some say women do as well. Some say that of men. Some Broadway plays have lasting power and in retrospect, shed more light on a current situation than when it was written. Some fall off by the wayside or are just plain flat and when they are revived, barely make the cut.

Overall most of Simon’s early plays are stuck in the time zone in which he writes them. They’re simply dated. He writes/wrote funny situational plays, romantic comedies, autobiographical comedies and some musical comedies.

This current revival of at the Old Globe, on the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre through September 2nd falls more into the semi-autobiographical, kinda romantic column and is loosely based on Simons' experiences with one of his wives.

Director Jessica Stone who admires Simon, ‘and the way he constructs his jokes has resuscitated it while it still has a few belly laughs lef. The running joke is that every time Paul, Corie’s mother and or the telephone repair man (Jake Millgard) climb the stairs to the top floor apartment of their brownstone they come gasping for air as if they just ran the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon.  Ms. Stone gets some good leverage out of this giving the audience something real to chuckle at and Millgard nurses it perfectly.   

Every time Paul comes huffing and puffing disheveled with tie askew, we know he’s just made the climb as we see with Ethel when she comes to visit. We see it again when the phone man and delivery guy come back for a second time. Needless to say the laughs come, but they do get tired after a while.
Mia Dillon and Jere Burns
Their trek reminded me of my growing up years living on the top floor of our three -story -house. There were nine cement steps just to get to the landing to even open the back door. Each flight had seven steps to a landing, there were two landings to reach each floor and we were at the top. You do the math.

Lowell’s Paul, who never seems to get used to the hike up to his place, falls into the he's just right as the 'head in the books attorney' and makes the most of his situation until he's had it! In a final come to Jesus scene when the two newly weds are in divorce mode and  he’s well over his dinking limit. 

He's actually a good drunk carrying on well past the time for the liquor to have worn off, even finding it OK to walk barefoot in the park and climb up onto the sky light where he's joined by Corie where all's well that ends well.

Yes it got to the point that their incompatibility wore them down while Ethel and Victor were getting it on (or so they thought) in some wild eating orgy when she ended up in his kimono and slippers and he, disheveled and disoriented tried to explain their evening together.

Bishé’s Corie never seems to break a sweat coming up the stairs (actually we hardly see her out of the apartment), she’s always in anxious mode and never lets on that she feels the chill from the snow heaped in a pile on the floor of her walk up; the skylight has a hole in it.
Corie: “It is going to be cloudy tonight with a light snow.”
Telephone man:And just think, you’ll be the first one in the city to see it fal
Jake Millgard, Kerry Bishe and Chris Lowell
Oblivious to it all except that Paul didn’t have time from his ‘busy schedule’ to pay attention, she worked too hard being happy, jolly and in everyone’s business to convince yours truly that she was a real person. In other words, who is she and what does she do while everyone is off working or was that a sixties thing?

Mia Dillon’s Ethel seems to have the most fun as Corie’s ditsy mother who comes a-calling at the most inopportune times. She has some of the best lines in the show but carefully lets Simon’s words work for her. (“When you were a little girl, you said you wanted to live on the moon…I thought you were kidding.”)
Mia Dillon and Kerry Bishe
Tobin Ost’s square cornered cutaway set, from my vantage point, looks at odds with the shape of the in the round theatre. It turned my sense of order and focus inside out and became a distraction.

Aside from having to walk up five flights of stairs everything in the small walk up is miniature and nothing looked comfortable.

David Israel Reynoso’s costumes are somewhat properly dated and Lindsay Jones music selections are period true. (“Moon river”, “Make Someone Happy”).

The Old Globe has been a safe haven for Simon over the years. In 1958 Craig Noel directed this very same show. Over the years, it's been mounted on several other smaller stages. 

 One of my recollections of Simon's work (and there were many) was a wonderful “Lost In Yonkers” in 2010 at The Globe.  

“Brighten Beach Memoirs” and Broadway Bound”, both autobiographical plays, have not lost their shine after so many years. Both depict real situations, funny and dated aas they may be are classic. Dusting off "Barefoot In The Park" may give it a new look for the time being but its time to close the chapter on this one. 

The next time you are in New York in the winter try walking barefoot in the park… sober. 

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Sept 2nd
Organization: Old Globe Theatre
Phone: 619-234-5623
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 1363 Balboa Park Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Web: theoldglobe.org
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Photo: Jim Cox

Monday, August 6, 2018

SDMT “Hairspray” An Instant Success.

 Clive Barnes dance and theatre critic for The New York Times was quoted as saying that “Hairspray” was Broadway’s ‘Great Big Gorgeous Hit’.

If you’ve never seen it or it’s been too long since you’ve last seen it, now is your big fat opportunity to do so. It’s here in town at the Horton Grand Theatre by way of San Diego Musical Theatre through Sept. 2nd.

Winner of eight 2003 Tony Awards including Best Musical and directed by our own Jack O’Brien of Old Globe fame, the Broadway cast starred Marissa Jaret Winokur as Tracy Turnbald and Harvey Fierstein (the King or Queen of drag and the essential Edna Turnbald) as her mother, Edna. Both won Tony’s for their respective roles.
Lauren King Thompson, Bethany, Emma Nossal
“Hairspray”, based on the New Line Cinema film written and directed by John Walters who was also the creative consultant for the musical, with Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan who wrote the book with original score by Academy Award nominated Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittmann and Marc Shaiman, takes place in Baltimore, 1962 where things ‘they were a changin’. (Welcome to the 60’s)

For Baby Boomers and younger who may not remember the ‘60’s here are a few dances that thrived then: ‘Stricken Chicken’; ‘The Madison’; The Locomotion’; ‘The Handjive’; ‘The Bug’; ‘The Pony’; ‘The Mashed Potato’ and ‘The Twist’.

Words like Afro, Beehive, Extensions, Perm, Pig Tails, Pompadour, Skunking and Teasing were made popular. The Civil Rights Act, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, JFK, Bay of Pigs, Peace Core, Cuban Missile Crisis and the death of Marilyn Monroe were a few items that made history in the early 60’s. That we were in for some trying times would be an understatement for years to come.

The originators of  Hairspray” were able to incorporate some of these social changes into the musical with out so much as blinking an eye and all done in fun. Would that it were so easily accomplished in real time.
Cast of "Hairspray"
It isn’t every day a musical comedy becomes a hit when the big girl (Bethany Slomka as the quintessential Tracy Turnbald) with the two -tone bouffant teased to hilt gets the hunk. Nickolas Eiter is Link the handsome guy on the show whose almost going steady with the most popular girl in town, Amber Von Tussle (Lauren King Thompson) falls for Tracy in a turn about is fair play.  

It isn’t every musical where the bigot’s daughter ends up with the ‘black guy’, (in 2018 it would be predictable) or a TV station whose lily-white advertisers don’t see black as a color, becomes integrated.

 And not everyone’s family in the 60’s was well…that different. In particular Tracy’s parents are as unusual as they come, with John Massey as the soft -spoken Edna trying to look petite and Steve Gunderson as her entrepreneur and husband. They become the adored couple of the show, and are such fun to watch. He/she towers above him and (Edna) is made up to outweigh Wilbur by at least 100 lbs. 
But on this particular journey all of the above happens.

 With the magic of musical theatre under J. Scott Lapp’s direction and Don Le Master’s baton, “Hairspray” starts off with a bounce and never once looks back or stops to take a breath.

The story line is simple: Tracy Turnbald, an overweight, 15 year old high school teen loves to dance. The popular television show, ‘The Corny Collins Show’, a trendy day -time dance show is having a contest to see who the best dancer is in the city of Baltimore.

Tracy wants to be a contestant, but we know the show has a fix in for her rival, Amber Von Tussle (Thompson). Amber’s mother, Velma (Eileen Bowman at her very best) is the honcho who gets to make all the important decisions, including who can or cannot audition, and there is NO way it’s going to be Tracy. Together mother and daughter they are as effective as chopped liver on white bread with mayo.

The struggle of ‘Who’s to be or not to be on the show’ continues through two acts with no less than nine scenes of high -octane music, ‘Tight Hold’ Hairspray, and array of some snappy and colorful dancing choreographed by Jill Gorrie.

When Tracy finally becomes a regular (overcoming way too many obstacles to mention including a stint behind bars) she becomes an overnight teen celebrity to some but a pain in the butt to the powers that be who did not want her on the show. They thought her too BIG (in size), too loud, too cozy with the African American community and too dumb to be a part of ‘their world’

One of the most important social upheavals of the century, integration, was about to happen right in front of our eyes and it all takes place (a la Hollywood and Broadway) in the uplifting and bouncy production of SDMT’s “Hairspray”.

The young and extremely energetic cast that shake the house up with such lively numbers as “Welcome to the 60’s”, “Good Morning Baltimore”, “You Can’t Stop The Beat”, “Hairspray”, “Without Love” “Mama I’m a Big Girl Now”, “Tight Hold”, and of course “You’re Timeless To Me” are to be given high grades. They ROCK!

Big gal makes good is at the crux of “Hairspray” but one of the most important social upheavals of the century, integration, was about to happen right in front of our eyes and it all takes place (a la Hollywood and Broadway) in the uplifting and bouncy production of San Diego Musical Theatre’s “Hairspray”.

Most of the fun in Hairspray though is in watching the chemistry between Tracy’s mother Edna (John Massey in absolute hysterical in drag and perfectly suited to Edna’s personality) and her father Wilber, (Steve Gunderson who plays multiple roles and is loving it, is the antithesis of Edna).  “You’re Timeless To Me”

SDMT talent also includes Zackary Scott Wolfe as the smooth M.C. Corny Collins; Kenneth Mosley is Seaweed J. Stubbs (a excellent dancer with voice to match) is the handsome boyfriend of color to Tracy’s loony best friend Penny (Emma Nossal is a hoot).

Penny’s bigoted mother Prudy (Debra Wanger having a blast as the coo coo Mom) is another prime example of the not so pretty racism that comes out with her blatant bigotry that is still rearing its ugly head today.

Eileen Bowman is Velma Von Tussle, the in charge person who gets to make all the decisions about who is in and who is out of the dance show. She’s another bigoted dragonfly who does her best (and she is good at it) to keep the show white bread lily white and without Tracy.

She gets her point across in “Velma’s Revenge” and “(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crab”. In contrast, Eboni Muse (seen recently in “The Buddy Holly Story”) is terrific as Motormouth Maybell the owner of a Black record shop/hangout belting out “Big Blonde and Beautiful” and “I know Where I’ve Been”.

Kudos again to Bethany Slomka, who is recreating the role once again that brought her instant accolades from the entire audience. If anyone doubts that she is having fun as Tracy, think again. She’s loving it.
Bethany Slomka
Hats off to Michelle Miles (lighting), Peter Herman (wigs), Kevin Anthenill (sound), Mike Buckley (sets), of course Janet Pitcher for her creative costumes for Edna, Motormouth and Velma.

 “If life were everything it should be, it would be more like Hairspray.” (New York Times)

Have fun with this.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Sept. 4th
Organization: San Diego Musical Theatre
Phone: 858-560-5740
Production Type: Musical
Where: 444 Forth Ave. San Diego, 92101
Ticket Prices: $30.00-$70.00
Web: sdmt.org
Venue: Horton Grand Theatre
Photo: Ken Jacques

Friday, August 3, 2018

“On Your Feet”: A Brave New Musical Pulsing With Excitement and Energy.

“On Your Feet”, the new musical filling seats at the Civic Theatre downtown through Aug. 5th, is about as energetic and crowd pleasing as any seen on this stage recently.

With book by Alexander Dinelaris and directed by Jerry Mitchell, choreographed by two time Tony Award winner, Sergio Trujillo and featuring the music of Emilio and Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine, the production is now on it’s first post-Broadway National tour and it jumps out at you the minute the curtain goes up. “Conga”

“ON Your Feet” traces the success story of the Estefan’s from the early beginnings when a young and naïve eighteen year old Gloria is introduced to the lead singer, Emilio Estefan, in the popular group “Miami Latin Boys” later known as “Miami Sound Machine. He comes calling for her to audition for his group. (“Anything For You”, “I See Your Smile”))
Christie Prades and Mauricio Martinez
To say it was love at first sight (“Here We Are”) might be an understatement but Dinelaris’ book (their true to life story) makes us wait a while as their rise to fame for the young Latin’s get to know each other.

The story wiggles through business disagreements and his management and charge of her career, takes us back in time to their familial roots and shows us how the two made the crossover from Latin to mainstream outlets while not diluting or avoiding political controversies along the way by giving record executives lessons on the realities of the changing faces of America.

The action unfolds in Cuba on a less than successful note for their getting together when Gloria’s mother wants nothing to do with Emilio, his band or his promises. There was no love lost between the two until Gloria’s near fatal accident while on tour years later.

Her reasons stem from the disappointments she experienced as an up and coming entertainer in Cuba when her husband, Gloria’s father (a solid Jason Martinez) an officer under the Batista regime after the revolution and was imprisoned by Castro. Finally freed from jail, they moved to Miami.

He volunteered to go to Vietnam where he was exposed to Agent Orange and was later diagnosed with MS. All this was brought up when her mother finally confessed to her why she was so hard on Emilio. 
Cast "On Your Feet"
With an exceptionally talented cast of no less than twenty eight including dancers and band, leads Christie Prades, understudied for the part on Broadway and Mauricio Martinez, who performed in this role on Broadway, give credibly to the handsome couple with the dynamic that runs between. Both are attractive, energetic, and with more than just a hint of electricity as they dance, sing and settle in to their own narrative.

Nancy Ticotin
Opening onto a busy stage (David Rockwell) we meet the young Gloria (excellent Carmen Sanchez) singing and sashaying with a laundry basket helping her mother, the elder Gloria (Nancy Nicotine who made her Broadway debut at age ten and hasn’t looked back since) and her Consuelo (Debra Cardona whose credits fill a quarter of a page) all with so much talent, it’s a jaw dropper. The show stealer is a young and  treat of the evening  Jordan Vergara taking on multiple kid’s roles (how about the Bar Mitzvah Boy?) with enough rhythm and energy to keep the lights on.

Her catalogue of songs include “Anything For You”, “Don’t Wanna Lose You”, “Here We Are”, “Live For Loving You”, “Oye”, “When Someone Comes Into Your Life”, “Words Get In The Way”, “Come Out Of The Dark” that she sang on stage, returning to the spotlight after recovering from her horrific accident.
Christie Prades (center)
And I was worried that I wouldn’t recognize any of the music all hits from the 1980’s (well I’m a dinosaur) but was so pleasantly surprised and blown away with the entire production and that included the eye popping costumes by Emilio Sosa, the snappy choreography not to mention the down to earth personal and rich story that brought a smile from ear to ear not seen in many other jukebox musicals.  

“Get On Your Feet” with the leads out front and the Miami Sound Machine in the background (on stage), the number that closed out the show must have gone on at least fifteen minutes while the entire audience was, in fact ‘on their feet’.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug. 5th
Organization: Broadway San Diego
Phone: 619-570-1100
Production Type: Jukebox Musical
Where: 1100 3rd and B Street San Diego 92101
Ticket Prices: Between $22.00-$110.00
Web: broadwaysd.com
Venue: San Diego Civic Theatre
Photo: Broadwaysd